Shell’s Whale of a PR Crisis #shellfail

The internet is a double-edged sword. Just as corporations are free to use social media to create communities around their brand, consumers are free to create communities to bring those brands down. Today, Canadian oil company Shell is learning that the hard way.

A new Arctic Ready website has been circulating around the internet since mid-June highlighting Shell’s Arctic efforts. They have a section for kids, links to Facebook and Twitter, and even a crowdsourced ad contest. The problem is, Shell didn’t create it, Greenpeace did.

As news outlets broke conflicting stories of a campaign gone wrong a month ago (thanks to an elaborate hoax video from Greenpeace,) Shell posted a press release asserting that these videos, contests, and sites were completely false. Then the ad contest started. Since then, images like the ones you see below have spread throughout the web like a wildfire.

fake shell oil narwhal ad

From the fake Arctic Ready site:

Here at Shell, we’re committed to online social media. After all, it’s the fuel that lubricates the engines of internet communication.

Today, we want to take the Arctic Ready message offline, directly to the drivers who benefit from Shell’s performance fuels. That’s why we’re launching a new campaign (deadline this Thursday!), from which the best ads will be printed and posted in strategic locations worldwide. With your help, we at Shell can tell the world how pumped we are about Arctic energy, and take the Arctic Ready message to Arctic-enthused drivers everywhere.

As Reddit-founder Alexis Ohanian once famously said at a TED Talk about the internet today: “You lose control over your message, − and that’s OK.”

But how do you respond to a social media crisis when it’s a full-on attack towards your business?

Think, then act

Compile all the facts around the situation and asses what it is you’re going to do or say. Remember that usually when you say “don’t do something” to someone, they usually do it anyways.

Identify a point of contact available 24/7 though any medium

Shell remains silent on their Twitter about the recent backlash, and now an alleged fake Twitter account is actually posing as their crisis response team (see fake tweets below). Make yourself available to field questions. Get a Red Bull because you’ll be working around the clock.

Be human

The perceived anonymity online can create some really extreme situations, don’t forget that the internet turns over every day, and while a comment only takes a second to type, make sure you (or your community manager) keep your brand’s image in mind before hitting Tweet.

Have you ever had to deal with a social media crisis? How did you respond? What tips would you give to Shell?

Update: It appears like the Arctic Ready site has been taken down and the @ShellIsPrepared Twitter handle has been claimed by the real Shell? The website in the Twitter bio has changed from to but messaging doesn’t suggest great communication from Shell’s response team.


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